Saturday, February 11, 2012


By: Amoah Kwaku Addi, back from Germany

Can persons with disabilities live on Paradise on earth? If this question was put to me somewhere last year 2011, my answer will be a definite NO, taking into consideration where I come from, Ghana, where persons with disabilities were the poorest and live in total misery and lacks opportunities.
But my recent visit to the v. Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel in Bielefeld in Germany, I can answer the affirmative and said, yes with the right support, commitment, will from government, good social welfare system like what pertains in Bethel , persons with disabilities can live on paradise on earth.

Bethel has the believe that if you put community into practice, Healthy or ill, disabled or not they are convinced at that all persons can live, learn and work together in their diversity as a natural fact of life.
However, many persons depend on assistance, accompaniment and support so that they can live a self-determining life of dignity to the greatest extent possible. In this Bethel community they have more than 15,000 employees committed to the welfare and upkeep of persons with disability.

Every day, they put the Christian mandate of brotherly love into practice in Berlin, in Bielefeld and at many other locations where a paradise was created for persons with disabilities.

The word “Bethel” is derived from Hebrew and means “House of God”. This name forms the basis of the agenda at the v. Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel in its capacity as Europe’s largest Christian social welfare services facility with a annual budget of 900 million Euros derives from donation, support from individuals, sales from donated items, collection and sales. of stamps.
Bethels assistance programs for persons with epilepsy are one example of Bethel’s endeavor, from its founding to the present, to develop advanced services for persons in need, i.e. persons in need who were previously left alone to fend for themselves.

Bethels main fields of work, in addition to the treatment of epilepsy, cover care for disabled individuals, senior citizens’ care, assistance for young people, assistance for the homeless, work and rehabilitation, psychiatry and providing medical care at hospitals for the acutely ill. They have recently expanded their range of services to include persons with acquired brain damage, therapy programs for persons with autistic disturbances and hospice work. A total of approximately 180,000 persons are treated, supported, trained or counseled each year via Bethel’s range of services.

Bethels desire is to offer the greatest degree of self-determinant living to persons who rely on their assistance and support. Expanding the range of out-patient services is therefore the predominate goal at the Bethel community. The communities still remain intact, and they offer to many disabled persons an optimal environment for living, working and simply being human.
Bethel was established in 1867 as a home for children and young people suffering from epilepsy. Pastor Friedrich von Bodelschwingh took over the home’s management and expanded the small institution in Bielefeld into a differentiated and broadly diversified offer of assistance. Bethel is indeed unique in terms of the diversity of its fields of work. Yet it is primarily the support of many friends and supporters that makes wide range of work possible for people who need help and create a place they can call home.


The Bethel Institution, officially call the v. Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel is a diaconal i.e. Protestant charitable hospital for the mentally ill in Bielefeld, Germany.
This paradise came about during the Nazi Germany era, staff at the institution was mainly in opposition to the National Socialist party's T-4 Euthanasia Program. In 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered the gassing of all mental patients.  

But the director of the hospital, pastor Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, resisted, saying "You can put me into a concentration camp if you want, that is your affair. But as long as I am free, you do not touch one of my patients. I cannot change to fit the times or the wishes of the Fuehrer. I stand under orders from our Lord Jesus Christ."

This statement by pastor Friedrich Von Bodelschwingh gave birth to the Bethel community that live in a colorful society composed of young and old, healthy, ill or disabled persons. Bethel’s facilities and services provide professional competency in many sectors; so that each person receives the kind of assistance that he or she needs till date.

Friedrich von Bodelschwingh wrote in 1882: “It is always more merciful to give work to a person capable of working than to give him alms; the former lifts him, the latter dishonors him.” From this train of thought the v.Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel has developed an impressive array of assistance programs for work, occupational rehabilitation and promoting skills in various occupations.
Individuals with disabilities and persons with mental or social impairments as well, will discover opportunities in the Bethel Workshops for training, employment and rehabilitation. Specialized integration services place disadvantaged persons on the general job market. Long-term unemployed persons may participate in occupational qualification programs in their workshops.

Bethel assumes a special role in assisting persons with epilepsy via its special rehabilitation hospital and its vocational training center. The clinic was the first of its kind in Germany in 1997, and the vocational training center continues as the only facility that has specialized in training younger persons with epilepsy. Disabled persons and individuals with mental illnesses are also being admitted to the center and also for training to gain employment in the community.
Bethel has established a range of services for elderly retired persons with disabilities.  They often have difficulty in keeping themselves busy, developing hobbies and maintaining social contacts after their working life has ended. We also have senior citizen day centers that enable elderly persons to enjoy a fulfilling life within the community.

Bethel and its range of services for work and occupational rehabilitation are present in the federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Bremen, Berlin and Brandenburg.  More to come

The Author is the President of the Network of Journalists for the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa (PROMOAFRICA), and Managing Editor of the EVENING TRIBUNE NEWSPAPER.


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